UPDATE: The following story was written on the basis of the two emails sent from the office of state Rep. Brian Kelsey, reprinted here in their entirety. Since then, both Kelsey and the Republican House Leader, Jason Mumpower of Bristol, have confirmed that the draft of Kelsey's resignation announcement was released by mistake. While, as Mumpower added, a resignaton announcement was to be expected in a "timely" manner, that time has not yet come. More details if and when the mystery unravels.
Germantown legislator Brian Kelsey, a candidate for the forthcoming special election for state Senate District 31, vacated by the scandal-scarred Paul Stanley, resigned his District 83 House seat Friday but seems not to have calculated the election calendar with total correctness.
A draft of Kelsey’s resignation letter to House Speaker Kent Williams and distributed to the media Monday read as follows:
"I am resigning my position as State Representative of the 83rd Legislative District as of 11:59 p.m. Resigning today will allow the state to save roughly $60,000-$70,000 by scheduling the primary special election on the same day as another special election in Shelby County.
"It will also allow a new Representative to be elected by the people of the 83rd Legislative District to be in place when the 106th General Assembly reconvenes."
There are several problems with Kelsey’s assumptions, however — a possible reason why Kelsey’s staff assistant Chase Johnson issued a subsequent email to the media with this message:
"Please disregard the previous email. This draft language was not intended to be sent to this distribution list."
Governor Phil Bredesen has 20 days from Friday, the day of Kelsey’s announcement, to issue a writ of election. There would be no difficulty in scheduling a District 83 primary on December 1, the same day as the currently scheduled general election for state Senate District 31, so long as Bredesen issues his writ on or before Day 18 of the aforesaid 20-day period.
Presumably that is what the governor will do. Should he wait out the full 20 days, however, the earliest feasible date for a Disttrict 83 primary would be Thursday, December 3, two days after the senate general election and a circumstance requiring the full expenditure of the aforesaid $60, 000-$70,000.
Most likely, however, the governor will act by Day 18 so as to hold the House primary on the same day as the senate general and limit the expense to the taxpayers. However, if he should wait to issue the writ until late in the cycle — say, on Day 18 itself, October 6 — he would be empowered to set the date of the state House general election up to 107 days later.
From a practical point of view, that could be Tuesday, January 19 — one whole week after the legislature reconvenes. That would not only preclude a new House member’s being “in place when the 106th General Assembly reconvenes,” it would open the way for a wholly hypothetical nightmare scenario from the Republican point of view.
Williams, the Elizabethtown Republican who was elected House Speaker last January on the strength of his own vote and that of the 49 House Democrats, is due to serve in that capacity until January 2011, after the next regularly scheduled election cycle.
But should Williams, who was uncredentialed as a Republican by the state GOP executive committee after that action, decide to resign as Speaker, then he could be replaced as Speaker by a new vote of the House at any time between January 12, the date of reconvening, and January 19, the date of general election to determine Kelsey’s final successor.
Should he do so, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, dominated as of now by an 8-5 majority in favor of the Democrats, would probably have appointed a Democrat as an interim District 83 successor to Kelsey.
Should another special House election, in District 62, have meanwhile resulted in no change in that district's current Democratic status, the interim Democratic appointee from Shelby County could, for the space of a week, give the Democrats a majority of 50 in the House to elect a new Speaker, who might well be Jimmy Naifeh, the long-serving former House Speaker, or some other Democrat.
And that Democratic Speaker would preside over the whole of the 2010 legislative session, determining which bills got to the floor and which didn’t, presumably able to alter committee memberships, and exercising other kinds of significant influence over House actions.
Granted, that scenario probably won’t happen. Williams is eager to regain his party credentials (and now has leverage to make sure it happens – and soon). And he enjoys being Speaker.
But it could happen. And that gives both Bredesen and Williams unusual power over the course of Tennessee political history. At least in the short term.
POST-NOTE: As the Update explains, the original story was based on a mistakenly -- and prematurely -- released draft from Kelsey's office. It should also be noted that the scenarios of power shifts indicated in that story are purely speculative and their probability is remote; still, they are possible, and become more so with the passage of time.